WASHINGTON (AP) — Growing numbers of Republicans showed discomfort Monday over obliterating President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul without having a replacement to show voters. Hoping to capitalize on the jitters, Democrats staged an evening Senate talk-a-thon to condemn the GOP push.
With Donald Trump just 12 days from entering the White House, Republicans have positioned a repeal and replacement of Obama’s 2010 health care statute atop their congressional agenda. But GOP lawmakers have never been able to rally behind an alternative, and Republican senators are increasingly voicing reluctance to vote to yank health coverage from millions of people without a substitute.
That hesitancy was fed as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., among those who want to delay repeal until a substitute is ready, said Trump telephoned him Friday night and expressed support for doing both together. The president-elect expressed a similar sentiment shortly after his election, but his call to Paul came as GOP congressional leaders have pushed toward an early repeal vote, to be followed by work on alternative health care legislation that could take months or years to craft.
“There are gathering voices of people saying, ‘Hmm, maybe we should have a replacement the same day as a repeal,'” Paul told reporters Monday.
The budding Republican divisions come as the GOP-led Senate pushed toward a final vote this week on a budget that would shield a future bill repealing Obama’s law from a Democratic filibuster.
Once passed by the Senate and later the House, the budget would prevent Senate Democrats from using those delaying tactics against the later legislation repealing Obama’s statute. Filibusters take 60 votes to halt in a chamber Republicans control by just 52-48.
Lawmakers were also focused on confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet.
In Tuesday’s initial hearings, committees will examine Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Trump’s pick for attorney general, and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, his choice for homeland security secretary. Seven others were also set for hearings this week.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee planned a hearing on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. election by hacking and distributing Democratic party emails to help Trump win the White House.
Among the witnesses will be FBI Director James Comey. It will be his first public appearance before Congress since he announced just before the election that the FBI was studying additional emails connected to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a revelation many Democrats say contributed to her defeat by Trump.
On the House side of the Capitol, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., met in his office Monday evening with top Trump transition aides to discuss GOP plans to revamp the tax system.
“I need to make sure that we are all on the same page. We have a huge challenge here, it was better tonight,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was heard saying after the two-hour meeting.
Democrats looking to cast themselves as populist defenders of a law that’s expanded health coverage to 20 million Americans used speeches to C-SPAN cameras and a nearly empty Senate chamber late Monday to attack Republicans for commencing a repeal effort with no alternative in hand.
“The Republicans hate Obamacare. They hate it almost as much as the devil hates holy water,” No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said, using the law’s nickname, as his party’s planned hours of speeches began.
“They certainly have a plan to repeal it, but when it comes to replacing it, they don’t offer anything. But they’re going to go ahead with this,” said Durbin, who said repeal would be “devastating.”
Among GOP senators saying repeal should wait until a Republican alternative is ready is Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health committee, which will be in the middle of the health-care rewrite. Others voicing that sentiment include Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
The budget gives congressional committees until Jan. 27 to produce legislation annulling much of the health care law, though the consequences for missing that deadline are minor. Even so, Corker, Collins and three other GOP senators introduced a budget amendment Monday delaying that target date until March 3.
Citing Trump’s support for a simultaneous repeal and replacement, Corker said allowing more time would provide “additional time to get the policy right” and create “a stable transition” between striking Obama’s law and enacting a new one.
In a column posted Monday on FoxNews.com, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote, “Once repeal is passed we will turn to replacement policies that cost less and work better than what we have now.” He said Republicans would replace the law “in manageable pieces,” not one huge bill.
On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, McConnell said replacement would follow repeal “rapidly” but did not define the timetable.
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